There seems to be much debate on the inter-webs (is that actually a word?) about whether you need a graphic equalizer with your home audio system or you don’t. For me personally, I always use an equalizer to adjust the sound to what I like. There are arguments that say that the recording engineer did all this for you already so you don’t need to do it yourself. The bottom line is it boils down to what sounds good to you.
It is my understanding that sound engineers generally record things flat so that different songs will all get about the same frequency response. This may not be the frequency response you prefer. They also don’t know what equipment you use for listening so they mix the music in a way that will cover most situations. That’s where the equalizer comes in. It allows you change the frequency response to something you like. If you are going to sit there and listen to music for any length of time, you want to like how it sounds right?
I also think with the vinyl record boom an equalizer has more importance especially for those interested in vintage equipment. Of course if you already have a home audio equalizer but don’t know how to properly use it, then you are doing more harm than good. So going with the premise that you should probably have a graphic equalizer as part of your home audio system, let’s take a look at the right way to use one. I would think that serious audiophiles do have graphic equalizers in their systems.
So if you have a home stereo system you most likely have a stereo receiver. Your receiver probably does have some tone control but it’s probably pretty basic. Most likely you’ll be able to boost the highs and lows and lower the mids. With a graphic equalizer though, you’ll have greater control over many more frequencies. Most basic equalizers will have about five bands but it’s more common to have fifteen. To get the sound precise you’ll need more than just a couple knobs on the receiver because those will cover a much broader range of frequencies. You’ll want to control a much narrower range of frequencies and you can only do that with a separate equalizer component.
Consider the Room
When trying to equalize your sound, you’ll have to take into consideration the room where your audio equipment is set up and what effect it has on the sound. You might have wooden floors or obstacles that block your speakers. The speaker position will also have an effect on the sound. A graphic equalizer will compensate for all these issues. It will allow you to boost or lower certain frequencies that are affected by your room and how your equipment is positioned.
When positioning your speakers, you’ll want to give them space from the wall between 2 and 3 feet. If they are too close to the wall, sound will reflect off surfaces and you’ll get an overly boomy bass. Also, for a sharp acoustic image, angle the speakers toward the listening spot unless the speakers are specifically built so you don’t have to do that. Don’t set the speakers on the floor unless they are tower speakers made for that. Your smaller speakers should be on shelves or stands that are head and ear height. The stands you use can help absorb reverberations eliminating some noise. If possible don’t put anything in front of your speakers so that sound isn’t reflected.
When talking about vinyl, criticisms I’ve seen are that the sound of vinyl is warmer but loses clarity when compared to digital. Digital will give you a great separation of instruments and vocal clarity. Vinyl is warmer and fuller but can sound muddy in comparison. Well with a graphic equalizer you can adjust these elements and get the clarity you desire along with the warm full sound.
When it comes to setting the equalizer you’ll want to start with all the sliders in the 0 position. Most people know that the low frequencies (bass) are controlled from the left-hand side, the mids are in the middle, and the highs (treble) are on the right-hand side. At this point you can start adjusting the sliders to get the sound to your preference. You don’t necessarily want to move the sliders up from the zero position but rather lower the sliders to take frequencies out. For instance, if you want more treble and bass then lower the middle sliders. Raising the sliders can distort and lower the quality of the sound. Sometimes raising a frequency may be necessary but you’ll want to start with subtraction. Also remember that any EQ change to one frequency will also affect how the other frequencies interact with each other. It is best to find music your are really familiar with so you can get a better sense of what sound adjustments you think sound best. Keep adjusting until you get the perfect sound for you. I sometimes find if I mess with the EQ too long I get ear fatigue and have to take a break. If this happens go ahead and take a break and get back to it when your ears are fresh.
Below is the frequency spectrum. I’m including it here for those who are curious and for those who may want help with settings.
Sub-bass: 20Hz to 50Hz – Humans can technically hear this register but generally you’ll want to reduce this level to give more overall clarity to your music
Bass: 50Hz to 200Hz – This is the register that comes from your sub-woofer and includes the kick drum, lower tom drums, and the bass. Closer to 200Hz you find the lower ends of acoustic guitars, vocals, piano, low strings, and low brass. This level can be adjusted up or down whether the music is too heavy at the low end or not heavy enough.
Upper bass to lower midrange: 200Hz to 800Hz – This range represents the lighter low end side. Adding EQ here can add oomph to lower vocals, low brass, piano, and the lower side of acoustic guitars. Lowering this level can open up the sound and clear up some space. In the 800Hz region you’ll find the body of musical instruments. Add here for more weight or reduce to lighten it.
Midrange: 800Hz to 2kHz- Adjusting in this range can make a big difference. Lowering this range can remove the harsh sound of instruments. Pushing at the top will add a metallic sound which is undesirable.
Upper midrange: 2kHz to 4kHz – This is an important register. Pushing here will give more clarity to vocals, guitars, and piano.
Presence zone: 4kHz to 6kHz – This register includes the highest range of pitches by most instruments. Most home stereos center their treble control in this range. Raising the lower end of this scale makes the music more front facing making it sound closer to the ear. Reducing here will open the sound pushing instruments away giving more depth. At the top of this range is where you will find the hissing sound of vocals. Reducing the dB towards the top will take care of this annoyance.
Brilliance register: 6kHz to 20kHz – This range is all harmonics and responsible for the air of sound. Lower the bottom of this register will give a purer sound with a tighter attack and more clarity. Boost around 12 kHz gives a more Hi-Fi sound. The top of this register moves toward more what you can feel and less what you can hear. Over boosting in this region can accentuate hissing sounds and cause ear fatigue.
So I’m sure we didn’t end the debate of whether you need a graphic equalizer in your home audio system or not, but I think we made a compelling argument to use one. If you are on the fence hopefully the information here will help you make a decision. I’m interested in what you all think so go ahead and leave a comment below. Thanks for your time.